Discover CALS

See how our current work and research is bringing new thinking and new solutions to some of today's biggest challenges.

By Blaine Friedlander
  • Atkinson Center
  • Environment
  • Planet
  • Climate
Cornell has earned a platinum sustainability rating – the top status – from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the international group that tracks environmental stewardship for more than 1,000 college campuses.

After maintaining a gold rating since 2012, Cornell earned 85 points in the group’s STARS (Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System) to become the first Ivy and the sixth university overall to reach platinum.

Cornell’s strong sustainability education component is a major driver that led to its higher score, said Sarah Zemanick, director of campus sustainability.

“The road to STARS platinum goes through the classroom and through the student experience,” she said.

The university had perfect scores in 45 of 61 subcategories, including student sustainability literacy, green laboratories, sustainability curriculum, support for public transportation and community partnerships.

The STARS report recognized Cornell for engaged learning opportunities, faculty sustainability research and providing students an opportunity for “living laboratory” projects such as Solarize, a collaboration between the student group Cornell University Sustainable Design and Cornell’s Grounds Department in Facilities and Campus Services. Over the past two years, the university supported nearly 80 student projects as part of its Living Laboratory initiative.

Currently, about 774 courses that feature sustainability are offered to undergraduate and graduate students, and more than 40 student organizations are devoted to sustainability.

Nearly 97% of all departments have faculty conducting sustainability research, about 98.9% of all academic departments offer sustainability courses and more than 500 faculty fellows participate in research via the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

Cornell is committed to the environment and to become a carbon-neutral campus by 2035, said Sarah Brylinsky, sustainability communications manager. “This platinum award confirms that all of our efforts on campus with faculty, staff and to prepare sustainability literate students are working.”

Other highlights from the 2020 STARS report:

  • About 83% of students walked, cycled or used Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit buses as a primary way to reach campus.
  • The Swipe Out Hunger program by Cornell Dining and the Office of the Dean of Students was recognized for helping first-generation and low-income students stave off food insecurity.
  • Cornell University Library’s Open Access Fund received recognition for advancing access to scholarly publications, supporting the idea that sustainability research must be open to accelerate solutions.
  • Total campus waste has been reduced by one-third per campus user since 2013.
  • One-fifth of total campus electricity comes from clean, renewable sources such as campus hydropower and solar energy.

The data was assembled by Careen Arsenault, sustainability administrator, and Megan Feely, STARS coordinator, in Cornell’s Energy and Sustainability office.

The STARS report is the foundation for other national and public sustainability rankings, such as the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools and the Princeton Review Green Honor Roll.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Header image: Solar panels on the roof of Day Hall. Photo by Lindsay France

Keep Exploring

a brown dog sniffing outside


Cornell Atkinson awards $1.1M to innovative projects
The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability has awarded seven Academic Venture Fund (AVF) interdisciplinary seed grants, totaling $1.1 million, for projects that engage faculty from eight Cornell colleges and 16 academic departments. In its...
  • Atkinson Center
  • Lab of Ornithology
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
aerial view of a farm


Cornell social scientists honored for rural community impact
The project, known as W4001, conducts research on the most pressing challenges faced by rural communities, where population trends are reshaping arenas such as food production and natural resource management, land use, ecological sustainability...
  • Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station
  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development